Last night’s episode of Game of Thrones, “The Spoils of War,” was one of the best in the series, maybe my second favorite one of the 64 so far. It had many memorable moments, like Petyr Baelish giving Bran Stark the weapon he tried to have him murdered with, Arya Stark coming home and reuniting with Bran and Sansa, and Theon Greyjoy coming ashore at Dragonstone. But the part that made the episode so memorable was the final portion, when Daenarys Targaryen and her Dothraki hordes surprise attacked the convoy of grain taken from the Lannister army’s winnings at The Reach. It had everything to do with the debut of Drogon, Dany’s largest and most fearsome dragon, in battle.
I could rattle off a list of reasons after the fact why the battle was awe-inspiring and fulfilling. Those after the show who gave reasons why, say, last week’s episode or other entries into the show’s catalog were better are also valid. The cinematography and scene framing were both brilliant. Bronn choosing loyalty to Jaime and more pointedly, the Lannister men, when he let his bag of gold go to attempt to kill Drogon was a nice bit of story progression. They set Dickon Tarly up in short order as someone to be reckoned with. All in the same, one could find examples of cinematography, character advancement, and character introduction in other, less memorable episodes. Hell, the framing and shooting of Euron Greyjoy’s surprise attack on his niece’s and nephew’s fleet was more visually stunning, for example.
But the reason why this episode stood out was because it delivered on a promise. It gave the audience DRAGONS IN BATTLE. Game of Thrones is a show that promises a lot of things and is at its absolute best when it delivers on those promises. The earliest example happened in season two. The thrust of the show promised war, and it spent 18 episodes setting it up with various political maneuverings. But the first really big set piece battle didn’t happen until episode nine of that season, with the epic in scale and action “Blackwater,” my favorite episode of the series. Instead of a show about geopolitics in a fantasy realm with a disturbing amount of rape, it crossed the Rubicon and gave its audience all out war using both realistic and fantastical elements (Wildfyre). The next example, my third favorite episode in the series, was in the episode called “Hardhome.” Since the series premiere, the spectre of the White Walkers and their foot soldiers, the Wights, loomed large over the series, and sure, they made appearances here and there. But it wasn’t until “Hardhome” that they were unveiled in grand fashion, with hordes and hordes of Wights swarming on the Free Folk outpost like a putrid wave of death. It was a down payment on the promise made from the show’s opening scene.
In the same way, Drogon flambeing Lannister foot soldiers and supply lines was deliverance on promises made the first time dragon eggs were even introduced. I waited several seasons, so many instances of cruel antagonists reigning and reveling in all-too-realistic inhumanity only to be replaced with even worse versions the moment they keeled over, all the slow-developing plots and the pain inflicted against Stark, Targaryen, Night’s Watch, and dwarven Lannister protagonists for this glorious moment. And believe me, Dany shouting “DRACARYS!” and the Lannister vanguard being split in twain with pure incendiary magnificence was the symbolic payment of all the show’s debts, which is funny since it came right after confirmation that Jaime and Cersei had finally paid their debts to the Iron Bank.
The term “fireworks factory” gets thrown around a lot. A reference to the ill-fated Poochie episode of The Simpsons, it’s a reference to a glorious payoff that keeps getting teased but not delivered. Wrestling fans know it all too well, but the good thing about Game of Thrones is that for all its faults, and the show has numerous ones, it never has a problem getting to the fireworks factory. “The Spoils of War” was the third such fireworks factory the show arrived at, and at each one, it ignited all the contents within and created memorable and indelible television.